Smoking Poses Health Threat on All Fronts for Soldiers

November 17th, 2008 - by admin

urt Constable / The Daily Herald – 2008-11-17 21:08:34

Smoking Poses Health Threat on All Fronts for Soldiers
Burt Constable / The Daily Herald

CHICAGO (November 11, 2008) — In a world where improvised exploding devices, suicide bombers and snipers are trying to kill you, it’s easy to see how soldiers can overlook what might be the biggest threat to their lives and health:

The collateral damage of tobacco.

On a Veterans Day when we honor the sacrifices made by all our military men and women (and their families), no one wants to scold the troops for smoking. “In no way do I want to minimize the sacrifices soldiers are making overseas. Those are immediate risks,” says Dr. Michael Fiore, a veteran and head of the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

But a new presentation at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians echoes the results of countless other studies showing military personnel are more than twice as likely to smoke or chew tobacco as U.S. civilians. About half of those surveyed said they didn’t use tobacco until they joined the military, and three out of four said military service (especially in stressful combat zones) increased their tobacco use.

“Is that a justification or a reason we should condone or encourage smoking? I would say definitely not,” says Fiore, an Army reservist who was a physician in Germany during the first Gulf War. “If soldiers are sacrificing for us, one of our responsibilities is to ensure that once they return to the United States, they have all the opportunities to succeed. If we condone a deadly habit like smoking, we are failing in that responsibility.”

In the decades before the Surgeon General warned us about the dangers of tobacco, cigarettes were included in soldiers’ daily meal rations as a way to ease stress and boredom. There was a romance and ruggedness to those old black-and-white photographs of soldiers smoking cigarettes.

Having gotten free Old Gold cigarettes during World War II, my dad continued to smoke that brand for another two decades. He needed to carry an oxygen tank with him at the end of his life.

While our government no longer provides free cigarettes, military bases often have cheaper prices on cigarettes. We’ve all seen photographs of young soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with cigarettes dangling from their mouths.

“It’s going to kill prematurely half of all veterans returning,” Fiore says of tobacco. “It’s an extraordinary risk to soldiers.”

Some of those risks are immediate.

“It’s not just a 40-years-later lung cancer issue,” Fiore says. “It complicates wound healing. For a soldier who is shot, their ability to recover is compromised if they are addicted to tobacco.”

Smokers have a greater risk of developing pneumonia, bronchitis, allergies and other illnesses. While the military once looked to cigarettes to “take the edge off” combat stress, officials discovered that smoking also took the edge off the athletic fitness and physical health of soldiers, Fiore says.

The Defense Department recently launched an anti-smoking campaign called “Quit Tobacco, Make Everyone Proud,” with a “mission” to “help U.S. service members quit tobacco — for themselves and the people they love.” It even offers live online chats with tobacco-cessation coaches. For details, visit the Web site

It even offers live online chats with tobacco-cessation coaches. For details, visit the Web site

In Illinois, veterans hospitals deal with the health woes caused by tobacco, and all of them offer programs to help veterans quit. The Veterans Affairs Web site at calls tobacco “one of the biggest public health challenges in VA today.”

For active soldiers tobacco use “is a safety issue,” Fiore argues. “They already are in danger. Let’s not put them in greater danger.”

The Web site for Fiore and Wisconsin’s Center for Tobacco Research ( sponsors a special program for military personnel and veterans called “Operation Quit Tobacco.”

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